Your city bus costs more per mile than a first class overseas flight

Across the country, public transportation systems are telling weepy stories to politicians, begging for funding. In New York, crippling real estate holdings have led the MTA to warn riders of an impending 23% fare hike. Chicago, which just raised fares in January, is agitating for even more hikes.

If New York's fare goes up again, it will mean its subway fares will have doubled in the past 16 years, far outpacing the general rise in the cost of living. As America's working people are forced to shoulder the burden of bad investment and inefficiency, I began to wonder just how much those of us who eschew car travel are paying per mile compared to other ways of getting around.

So I figured it out, because I thought you'd want to know. Here's how various forms of transportation stack up. For equality's sake, I priced everything based on a departure closest to 9 a.m. on April 15, tax day. That's a Wednesday, when fares are typically fairly cheap, so I'm giving everyone a head start:


AIR:

Southwest Airlines New York (Islip) to L.A.: $169 (Web special) or $424 (Business Select) for 2,462 miles
6.8¢ per mile (Web special) or 17¢ per mile (business)

JetBlue Airways New York to L.A.(Burbank) ($117) 2,455 miles
4.8¢ per mile

Delta economy class New York City to LAX: $119 for 2,462 miles
4.8¢ per mile

Delta business class New York City to LAX: $799 for 2,462 miles
32¢ per mile

Non-stop flight between Cincinnati and Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Virginia, two of the three most expensive American airports: $364 for 216 miles
$1.69 per mile

British Airways New York City to London (Heathrow) on British Airways in economy: $987 (I'm including taxes since they're so high) for 3,470 miles
28¢ per mile

British Airways New York City to London (Heathrow) on British Airways in business class: $5,747 for 3,470 miles
$1.66 per mile

British Airways New York City to London (Heathrow) on British Airways in first class: $8,306 for 3,470 miles
$2.39 per mile

Qantas LAX to Sydney: $1,705 (economy), $11,491 (business), $15,597 (first) for 7,487 miles
23¢ per mile (economy), $1.53 per mile (business), $2.08 per mile (first)

New York City to London on the Concorde, grounded since 2003: $4,650 for 3,470 miles
$1.34 per mile

RAIL:
Amtrak New York City to downtown L.A.: $243 for 2,462 miles
9.9¢ per mile

Amtrak (standard service) New York to Washington, D.C.: $103 for 204 miles
50¢ per mile

Acela New York City to Washington, D.C. ($155) 204 miles
76¢ per mile

BUS:
Greyhound bus New York City to Washington, D.C.: $41 (refundable fare) for 204 miles
20.1¢ per mile

Tripper Bus New York City to Washington, DC (Arlington, VA): $5 for 209 miles
2¢ per mile

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:
These public transit systems charge a flat cash fare to go one mile within the center of their cities. So if you're using one for a quick trip, you'll pay the following:
New York Subway, Boston T: $2 per mile
Chicago El: $2.25 per mile
Atlanta MARTA: $1.75 per mile
Los Angeles subway: $1.25 per mile
San Francisco MUNI: $1.50 per mile
London Tube: £4, or $5.63 per mile (plus more if you travel beyond the central city)
Paris Métro: €1.60, or $2.01 per mile
Cairo metro: 1 Egyptian pound, or 18¢ per mile
Hong Kong MTR: HKD$7.7 or 99¢ per mile

SEA:
First class transatlantic (April 14 to Southampton): ($3,445 in Queens Grill class) 3,426 miles
$1.01 per mile

Queen Mary 2 transatlantic, cheapest fare in a double cabin: $1,145, balcony in Britannia class) 3,426 miles
33¢ per mile

Queen Mary 2 transatlantic, cheapest fare available right now this year: $845.00, Oct. 9, inside cabin 3,426 miles
25¢ per mile

So what kind of dispiriting conclusions can we draw from my simple mathematics exercise?

One: It costs about as much to fly out of Cincinnati as it does to fly first class on British Airways.
Two: It costs about twice as much to ride Chicago's El as it does to travel first class on one of the world's finest ocean liners.
Three: It costs more than four times as much to ride a mile the Tube in London as it used to cost to fly the Concorde.

In fact, almost all American public transportation systems cost more per mile than the Concorde or on first class on an overseas flight. Even in Los Angeles, where the subway is priced notably below many other cities, the per-mile rate is still $1 higher than a flight to London.

You can do the same math yourself. Just take the price in dollars and divide it by the miles traveled (I calculate as the crow flies) as described here. You can also find an online calculator that will compute how much you're paying to commute by your car, based on how far you go, what you pay in insurance, and so on.

Post your own fare calculations here. And try not to be bitter.

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